There is a game played at team-building events and slumber parties alike called Two Truths and a Lie. The idea is to learn more about each other and spark conversation among people. For example, I might say, “I can juggle and spin a basketball on my finger. My husband and I met when we got married in a musical in high school, and I love cats.” And you would have to figure out which one of those things is a lie. (Hint: Cats are the worst.)
Well, today we are going to play Two Lies and a Truth, but I will make it easy on you and tell you which two are the lies and which one is the truth so you all have a great chance of winning. Winning is fun, so here goes:
Lie #1: I am good enough.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Whew. A bit convicting, no? We might not use the same words as the Pharisee to boast about our fasting or tithing practices, but I know I’m guilty of variations on this theme. At least my kids are better behaved than those kids. Or I’ve never stolen or struggled with addiction. Or the very basic thought: I’m a pretty good person compared to most people these days. It is easy to fall into that trap, and it is a lie that the devil uses to make us feel a little too confident that we can do this life without Jesus. But we can’t. It’s a lie. It’s a lie that convinces us to go it alone when we are meant to be a part of God’s kingdom of believers. It’s a lie that intends to puff us up and make us feel good about ourselves at the expense of other “sinners.” It’s a lie that tells us we don’t need to repent and run to our Savior.
Lie #2: I am not good enough.
This lie might even be more dangerous than the previous because it has elements of truth and can be easily twisted by the devil to bring us to despair. It’s a lie that could make us throw up our hands and admit defeat and take on a “why bother?” attitude. It’s a lie that might convince us that we are unworthy even to walk through a church door. But the church is full of sinners, and that’s where we belong and where we can confess to one another and reassure each other that we are in the right place.
The apostle Paul, previously Saul who persecuted the Christian church, called himself the Chief of Sinners. He knew guilt. He knew shame. He wasn’t good enough . . . without Jesus. God showed him that his grace was sufficient for Paul, and God used Paul’s past to give others a future. Paul writes in a letter to Timothy:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15,16)
The Truth: There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, AND there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
Read that truth again. Nothing. On either end. We can’t earn God’s love, and we can’t out-sin grace.
As Pastor Mike quoted in his message this week, “God blesses bad people because bad people are all there are.” God blessed Jacob even though he and his mom went about getting that blessing in a deceitful way. God blessed Moses and David and Paul even after murder was on their records. God blessed Peter even after a betrayal. And God blesses us, even after we _________________________ (fill in the blank here/choose your own sinful adventure).
God will use us in all our messiness. God will bless us as he sees fit and grow us as he sees fit. God sent Jesus to save us from our self-righteousness and our despair. Now, when God looks at us, he sees his Son, holy and pure and his own dear child.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23,24)
All have sinned: There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. We have sinned. We have fallen short. We are not good enough . . . on our own.
All are justified: There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. Jesus didn’t sin. Jesus didn’t fall short. Jesus is good enough for all of us, and we are now sons and daughters of the King.
Wow. What a truth.